Listening to bebop

Bebop was the beginning of modern jazz. Starting in the 1940s, young jazz musicians began to bust out of jazz that was solely a jazzy version of the blues or of standard tunes taken from shows. Instead, they began to explore a music that was both rhythmically and harmonically more complex, syncopated and dissonant.

A really good, Half-White Album

There’s long been a truism in rock that most double albums are failures to edit down to a good single album. I don’t recall, but I suspect the White Album is the source of that idea. But what about the good stuff? What would a really great single album — let’s call it The Half-White Album — comprise?

This Woman’s Got Soul

An imagined encounter between Carole King and Aretha Franklin that led to “Natural Woman.”

What to listen for when you listen to jazz

This series on listening to jazz opened with an introduction to some of the greatest jazz musicians and works of the last 60 years. Many people listen to jazz and feel torn — there’s something they like about it, but they’re also a bit confused. Some parts seem to repeat, some don’t repeat at all. In the same song, you might have parts that are very structured followed by parts that seem chaotic and random. It’s hard to enjoy the music if you feel confused by it.

Seven great jazz records from seven great artists

Most of the musicians represented here cut their teeth on bebop, some actually playing with Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, and the other lions of bebop. They took that music, its spirit, and found ways to give it more colors, flavors and freedom by further exploring African and Latin scales and rhythms, European modal music, and by remixing the blues and even R&B music. These musicians were highly influential, most of them known also as composers, others as band leaders who nurtured multiple generations of great players.

Why I worship Jeff Beck

Watching the Jeff Beck live at Ronnie Scott DVD, I realized just how influential he was in the evolution of electric guitar and rock.

Sarah Vaughn deserves more recognition

The three big divas of jazz are unquestionably Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan. Yet Vaughan seems to have been relegated to the status of insider’s gem. Think of Ken Burn’s Jazz series; you came away with a strong sense of Billy and Ella, but Sassy? Not so much.

For the uninitiated, Vaughan had an enormous range that she used flawlessly and at will. Like Holiday, she sang like a horn, often departing mightily both tonally and rhythmically from the melody and truly improvised, not only from one performance of a song to the next, but even from beginning to end. Like Ella, she could scat to beat the band.

Reconsidering Herbie Hancock

Listening to Hancock’s first two albums (Takin’ Off, Maiden Voyage) and the remastered CD of Empyrean Isles, his third, has given me a chance to hear the early Hancock in a concentrated dose and reconsider his place in the evolution of jazz. And a lofty place it is, I’ve decided.

McCoy Tyner plays like he means it

Seeing him perform in a small club, what strikes me is how Tyner has the same quality as Trane: he plays with total intent. The fact that his music has many difficult technical aspects fades in comparison to his ability to speak in that language in definite sentences and with passion.